A couple of years ago, we did a family read-aloud of "The Golden Compass". I'd read the book, we'd all seen the movie, but my husband hadn't ever read it, so every night after dinner, we'd sit down and one of us grown-ups would read a chapter aloud. If you've not read it, it's a little hard to summarize quickly. Suffice it to say that it interweaves magic, theology, science and armored bears, and that all of the humans have animal daemons, and that Dust is a mysterious important particle.
Towards the end of the book, Lyra finally makes her way to her father, Lord Asriel. [Note: this is a scene that's not in the movie.] In a long conversation about "dust", Asriel turns to the Bible to explain how sin came into the world, in Genesis. But the Golden Compass edition of the Bible - of course - includes daemons. Instead of reading thusly:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:6-7)
Pullman's version reads:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to reveal the true form of one's daemon, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they saw the true form of their daemons, and spoke with them.
But when the man and the woman knew their own daemons, they knew that a great change had come upon them, for until that moment it had seemed that they were at one with all the creatures of the earth and the air and there was no difference between them:
And they saw the difference, and they knew good and evil, and they were ashamed, and they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness..." (The Golden Compass, p. 372)
This passage, which we made sure to point out was an adaptation of the King James, what with those daemons, led to a lively discussion amongst us, as to the origins of the Bible and what one might like to believe about it, and why it's important to read it and that it's a significant piece of the literary canon. Several days later, the girl asked me to get the Bible down from the high shelf it lives on, next to a hymnal and a concordance and not far from the third edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I want to read about Jesus, she said. I made her start from Genesis; she slogged through several chapters and abandoned ship.
Until not too long ago, that is, when she - now ten - told me that she was reading the bible. Oh, said I, why? Well, I was watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and they were looking for the holy grail, and I thought I should learn more about Jesus. Okay, then.
It is decidedly interesting to navigate the choppy waters of belief systems as a parent, especially given my longstanding status as a heathen pagan atheist1. The child apparently has had many conversations about religion at school - not in school qua school, but on the playground, in the cafeteria, on the bus. One boy told her he could never marry her because she's not Jewish. Other children are incredulous that she's not anything. You have to be something, they say. She tells me that she tells them that there's no scientific evidence that god exists. And she's curious. She's read One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship2. She knows, roughly, the difference between Catholics and Protestants because she's read about Bloody Mary. She's pretty good on the Greek myths, thanks to the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. We're going to go on a field trip to church - an Episcopal church, on Staten Island, where I know the Priest in charge3. We talk about lots of things at the dinner table - one recent meal included these wide-ranging vocabulary words: vernal, polygamy, geopolitical, solstice, autumnal, chalice. In short, we're working on religious literacy.
1 The Belief-O-Matic says I'm a Secular Humanist.
2 Incidentally, Mary Pope Osborne totally redeems herself in that book; I'd have never thought I'd want to own any books by the author of the infernal Magic Treehouse books, but this is a good one.
3 He married us, using a secular edit of the ceremony out of the Book of Common Prayer.